La Dolce Vita - Roadtrip through Italy
Part 1 from Bologna to Apulia
Long time I just wanted to get into a car and start driving through Italy without a proper plan and without any previous bookings – which is quite unusual for me as normally I plan my trips in all details. But this time it was different and what to say it was an amazing trip with so many new experiences, new places and new people. Of course our gypsy lifestyle was tiring some times, but the trip was worth it. Italy is a very well known destination, but there are still so many secret spots to discover away from the popular cities as Rome, Milan, Venice and alike, which we completely skipped on this trip. We wanted to get to know to a more hidden and authentic Italy and therefore chose also most of the time small B&B´s or countryside places to get the local touch. As the name says Bella Italia is indeed a real beauty that deserves to get discovered without a hectic time schedule. Just indulge in the Dolce Vita!
Facts & Figures to start
We did a whopping total of 4500 km, however we started our trip from my home town Munich in Germany. First Italian city was Bologna and then we went over the east coast side to Apulia, afterwards Calabria and then did the return routing over the western coast, Tuscany, South Tyrol and back to Munich.
As this was a giant trip – I will split it up into two Blog posts now. So this post will describe the routing from Bologna to Apulia with a detour over the Gargano peninsula, which is a rough 1000 km trip in total.
Bologna can be easily reached by various international airlines.
Mode of transport
We did the entire trip with a rented car. After some initial problems with our reservation, which however was addressed quickly and with a good solution, we were very satisfied with the car we got and it didn’t let us down the whole way. Only one time in the most remote place of the trip (of course!!!) some warning lamps for the tyre pressure popped up which caused some panic for us ladies, but after we found a garage and a nice Italian guy to help (well he was an exception as a lot of Italian guys lost their gentleman attitude somehow I figured out), the problem was quickly solved.
Car rental was from Enterprise www.enterprise.com
Road conditions were fine, except some never-ending construction works, which caused traffic jams especially during weekends. And be aware Italians are not the most patient drivers and most of them seem to feel like on a F1 race course.
Best travel month
We did the trip in the month of June, which was a good time as it still was not too hot and the peak season hasn´t started yet. Otherwise a lot of places would have been overcrowded and it would have been difficult to find an accommodation without a previous reservation.
Nov – March Not recommended as a lot of touristic places and hotels will be closed.
April – May Spring time with a nice blooming nature. However some places will still be closed. Advantage for this period is that you will be often the only foreigner among locals.
June and Sept./Oct In my opinion the best time, as all these month are shoulder seasons with better prices and less tourists. Especially autumn time will be very scenic.
July – Aug Not recommended due to the peak season. Beaches and villages will be overcrowded and you won´t find any availabilities. The days around 15th August are a real no-go as whole of Italy will be in motion due to their major holiday at that time.
As mentioned I didn’t do any previous bookings. We just decided at the spot where we like to go the next day and I booked all accommodations online via www.booking.com – usually I am not a big fan of these large online booking portals, but for this trip it was very convenient and the hotels and B&B´s were very pleasant. We had good experiences throughout and found even some small characteristic local places like farmhouses etc. that you usually find more on www.airbnb.com
Stop 1 Bologna
The perfect entry gate to Italy, which already sets you back in the ancient Roman times. Nowadays a buzzling university city with great restaurants, lively cafes and bars and of course not to forget great shopping opportunities.
We stayed at the Savoia Hotel Regency, which is a bit off the centre, but easily accessible from all main highways and with free parking. The bus to the city stops in front of the hotel and takes 10 minutes to reach there. Otherwise the hotel is a bit old fashioned, but in a quiet surrounding and has a nice pool for an afternoon dip, www.savoia.eu
Best in Bologna is to just wander in the streets around the impressive Piazza Maggiore, which is surrounded by various Palazzos and the Basilica di San Petronio.
You will find many stunning monuments and buildings in walking distance like for example the Due Torri (looks a bit like you are in Pisa 😊).
Like in most of the Italian cities there are plenty of churches, historic buildings and museums to explore.
Further away (in Via Piella) you can feel like you are in Venice at the Canale di Reno.
The Art of Aperitivo
An Aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink that should spur your appetite and is a common habit throughout Italy. However in Bologna an Aperitivo is a real celebration and you can find many super nice spots all over the city, where they take the Aperitivo on the creative side. You will get some snacks (olives, chips) or fingerfood (salami, small sandwiches) served along your Aperitivo. That is why the price will be a bit higher than for a normal drink. Most popular choices are Spritz, Aperol or Cynar. For me an Aperitivo on some of the Piazzas surrounded by a chatting crowd of local students, is the real Italian feeling.
A nice and different place for an Aperitivo is the Mercato dele Erbe (Herbs Market) www.mercatodelleerbe.eu – where you can find different food stalls and bars located in a historic building. After your Aperitivo you can also enjoy a great meal over there.
Not a specific restaurant tip, but a whole neighbourhood of streets filled with restaurants, bars, butchers, bakeries and grocery stores is the Quadrilatero area beside the Piazza Maggiore. Although this area is very touristic, it is still very charming and you can find some good options like for example the 051 Cibo e Passione (Via de Pignattari 1/F). Here you can order big plates of Prosciutto, Cheese and other Italian delicies.
Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival screens film classics in the spectacular open-air set-up at the Piazza Maggiore. A popular yearly event that is the sign that summer has arrived in the city. Some of the silent films are accompanied by full orchestras www.festival.ilcinemaritrovato.it
Another popular yearly event is the Bologna RoBot Festival dedicated to electronic music and digital art. It´s a hip and very urban celebration and you can find DJ sets, video installations and workshops all over the city www.robotfestival.it
Stop 2 Riccione
The well-known beach stretch at the Italian Rivera formerly a traditional thermal sea bath, is since long a beach lovers paradise. However it all depends on your definition of paradise – if hundreds of bars, clubs, restaurants and shops in one spot is your thing, Riccione and the neighbouring resorts of Rimini and Cattolica is your place-to-be together with half of Italy during the summer month – as also the locals love to come here. Don´t mind that wherever you go, you will be squeezed in with others, especially on the beach, where your neighbour will almost sit in your lap. Nothing for people who like their freedom.
In Riccione, same as in the other resort towns around, you have plenty of hotels (400 in Riccione alone) and apartments on offer. We stayed at the stylish Boutique Hotel The Box (www.theboxriccione.com). Rooms are tiny, but in a nice retro-design. Also the public areas are with a fresh and urban Vintage design – a hotel that mainly caters for hip travellers with the modern bar on the ground floor plus the healthy plated breakfast options. The hotel doesn’t have a sea view as a building is right in front of it. So you have to walk around that block to reach the beach. Staff was very friendly and helpful, which was unfortunately not the case in many other hotels and restaurants on this tour.
Main thing to do in Riccione is actually not to do anything. Just sunbath on the beach, take a dip into the very shallow water (good for kids, but not so good for grown-ups) or maximum have a walk on the endless beaches. The region earned its reputation as the “Teutonen Grill” – due to the many pale German tourists getting sun grilled there.
All the beachside promenade is well-done with lots of plants and therefore gave Riccione the name “The Adriatic Green Pearl”.
Along that promenade you can also find all the beach clubs or bagnos as they are called, where you can rent sunbeds and umbrellas on daily or weekly basis. Nowadays the beach clubs got up-graded and offer various activities such as beach games, sport programs, yoga and so on. Most of them have their own beach restaurant and bar and few even their own tiny swimming pool.
Evenings are dedicated to shopping and having a stroll through the pedestrian area, with a stop at one of the many ice cream parlours.
All the youngsters are then moving on to the famous open-air clubs of this region.
At the harbour area (Porto) you can find a couple of real good fish restaurants like the Ristorante Portofino (www.portofinoriccione.com) or Ristorante da Fino (www.dafino.it) – of course anything fish or seafood should be your choice here.
On Easter Riccione is inaugurating the tourist season with some big events and shows, which are worth a visit. For events in Riccione and the area around check on www.emiliaromagnaturismo.com
Stop 3 Termoli
Termoli used to be a small fishing village. Nowadays it became also a popular beach destination at the Adriatic sea, however it is a bit more relaxed and with a more local touch compared to the previous stop. The historic center of Termoli is situated high above the sea on a rocky plateau. The narrow cobble stone streets and the pastel-coloured old houses are surrounded by a historic fortress wall.
The hotel options directly in the center are limited. We stayed at the Hotel Mistral (www.hotelmistral.net), which is directly located at the beachside road with 5 minutes walking distance to the old center. The hotel is old-fashioned and nothing special. However our room was spacious with a balcony and sea view. We just stayed one night, so it was perfectly fine, however for a longer stay I wouldn´t recommend the hotel – somehow it feels strange especially the breakfast room, which has the ambiance of a train station. Breakfast was the normal average Italian breakfast.
Also here main activities are concentrated on the beach.
Otherwise you can do a walk around the fortress wall and see some traditional Trabucchi, which are old fishing machines typical to this region. They are built over rocky areas where the sea is deep enough and are very picturesque photo spots for tourists as well.
Later you can take a stroll through the narrow streets of the historic center.
Opposite the gate to the old town, you can see a long pedestrian street that leads into the new town. In this street you can find a variety of shops, pubs and restaurants.
A very good restaurant in a historic building of the old city is the Ristorante Svevia (www.svevia.it) – with excellent food, presented in very creative dishes. Another popular dining spot in Termoli is the Ristorante da Nicolino (www.ristorantenicolino.it).
A place that I didn’t try, but looked very nice from passing by was the Osteria dentro le Mura (www.osteriadentrolemura.it) – here the guests are sitting on small tables and chairs outside at the city wall overlooking the sunset.
Every year on the last Sunday in August the Fish Festival is taking place at the Port of Termoli. As the name says all is dedicated here to fish and you can try some delicious local specialities. The Festival is celebrating the union of the inhabitants to the sea, which is a source of living for many families in Termoli www.molisecoast.com
Stop 4 Gargano
The Gargano peninsula belongs already to the region of Apulia and due to its form it is also called the “spur” on the “Italian boot”. The rocky peninsula stretches deep into the Adriatic sea and is covered with a dense vegetation. In the National Park you can still see remains of the Foresta Umbra, ancient oak and beech trees that once covered most of Central Europe. Further you can explore picturesque villages in the Gargano region or swim in the crystal clear waters of the local beaches. And of course like everywhere in Italy the food is just amazing, so don´t miss to try out the regional cuisine.
Was really a lucky choice and one of my favourite on the tour – the Boutique Hotel Il Castellino Relais (www.ilcastellinovieste.it) – which is a bit off the center of Vieste at the end of the city beach Spiaggi di San Lorenzo. You can see the picturesque Villa already from far away with its bright rose colour. Our room was a bit small, but comfortable and with a nice balcony facing the sea. Breakfast was great with many different choices and the outside seating on the terrace a perfect place for a good start into the day. Furthermore the hotel has a garden swimming pool and its own umbrella/sunbed section on the public beach opposite the hotel.
If you prefer a city hotel in Vieste, I can recommend the Hotel Seggio (www.hotelseggio.it), which is located directly in the heart of the historic center. The hotel is sitting on the edge of the city cliff and therefore offers amazing views over the sea. With an elevator through the rock you can reach beneath the private beach and pool area of the hotel.
As mentioned before there are many picturesque villages on the coast as well as inside the Gargano Peninsula.
The medieval village Vico del Gargano for example is a must-see on every Gargano trip. High up in the mountains it can be reached through a narrow, winding road and offers spectacular views of the Peninsula around. Famous for its historic buildings and the citrus plantations around it is also called the “Village of Love” – so a famous spot for all love birds. A lot of the old buildings are abandoned nowadays and a walk through the maze of streets feels like a time ride.
Then on the coast on the very top of the Peninsula you have Vieste – which is nice for a couple of days on the beach and to explore the surrounding area. The historic center offers many shops, restaurants and bars with the medieval castle overlooking the city.
Also the rock formation on which Vieste is situated is picturesque, especially the Pizzomunno on the Scialara beach, which is an impressive limestone monolith.
From Vieste and the other coastal towns you can also take nice boat trips to explore the stunning beaches, coves and caves. Around the whole Peninsula you have a landscape of spectacular white cliffs, covered with a lush green vegetation that are dropping steep into the crystal blue sea.
Then a walk through the ancient woods of the Foresta Umbra (www.forestaumbra.com) should not be missed. The climate is much better up here than in the coastal region and the dense forest feels somehow mystical and out from a fairy tale world. If you want you can also take guided walks here or sleep overnight in some rustic cottages.
The most famous spot however of Gargano is for sure the pilgrimage village Monte Sant Angelo (www.turismomontesantangelo.it). The huge bus parking spaces on the approach to the village will already remind you that you won´t be alone here. Monte Sant Angelo is a symbol of the sacredness of the area. The Shrine of St. Michael Archangel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the holy Grotto is listed in the National Geographic Magazine among the most beautiful top ten Sacred Caves in the world. Through a complex of overlapping structures you walk your way down to the cave, where no pictures are allowed and long cloth is required (you will be given a cover if you don´t bring your own).
Otherwise there are many other churches and historical buildings to explore in the village.
Also the medieval fortress can be visited.
In spring time a variety of wild orchids will bloom in the valleys around.
Of course the Gargano area is also a culinary heaven and especially the fish and seafood dishes can´t get any fresher than here. Octopus can be found in different varieties on all the menus, but my favourite one is the thinly sliced Octopus Carpaccio.
A nice beach snack and typical to the region are also the delicious Piadina – Italian flatbreads filled with cheese and ham.
A common appetizer or bar snack in whole Italy are the Bruschetta breads – grilled white bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with chopped fresh tomatoes and basil. At the Bruschetteria La Piazetta in Vieste (Piazetta Padre Pio 5) you can find these little breads in a great variety and with perfection.
Further restaurant tips in Vieste are Il Paniere (www.ilpanierevieste.it) a rustic Trattoria, where you can get traditional Apulian food with organic ingredients.
For romantic dinners La Ripa (www.laripa.net) would be a perfect choice, where you can dine in a historic cellar surrounded by candle light and with a creative and healthy cuisine. Just the service needs to improve in speed.
And of course the Aperitivo is celebrated here as well – best at the Carpenter Bar (Largo Seggio 9) on the edge of the city cliff and with a spectacular sea view.
For a sweet treat the Cornetteria Chianca Amara (Via Cimaglia 4) offers a great variety of Italian pastries, desserts and cakes.
The yearly summer Music Festival Serenata Tarantella (www.serenataallatarantella.com), which is held every August in Vieste on the beach close to the Pizzomunno monolith is a lively demonstration of the Italian Dolce Vita.
Stop 5 Polignano a Mare / Monopoli
After passing Bari, the main hub to the region, you can reach these two beautiful coastal towns in a short drive. Both towns should be included in every roadtrip through Apulia and you can easily spend a few days around here, as beaches are picturesque and the area rich in sights and culture.
We stayed at the San Tommaso Hotel (www.santommaso.net), which is a 5-minutes drive away from Polignano. The historic building is situated in a park-like garden and from the terrace you can enjoy the sea view. It felt a bit like in a small palace and our room was huge with a modern interior and a great view from the bathroom window. However the hotel is more a meeting and event venue and therefore lacks ambiance. At the time of our stay a wedding took place, which we only got informed after we already have made the booking. However the wedding party finished early and we were out anyway, so we didn’t experience any night-time disturbances. Breakfast was typical Italian style.
Polignano has a very nice historic center which is perfect for a pre-dinner stroll. A not to be missed activity is to watch the sunset from one of the many terraces. Polignano is also famous for its tiny city beach Cala Porto, which is situated directly under the old town and a Roman bridge. In summer this white-pebble beach can get really packed.
Monopoli has a very nice small village port, where you can observe the local fishermen.
For good Pizza and Pasta in Polignano try the La Terrazza (Via San Vito 1). The Terrazze Mona Chile (www.terrazzemonachile.com) has a spectacular location opposite the city cliffs, however with a higher price tag. Further spots to dine are the Pescaria (www.pescaria.it), the Trattoria Cuccundeo (www.cuccundeo.it) and the Ristorante Villa degli Aranci (www.villadegliaranci.it).
In June the Festival of St. Vito is taking place in Polignano with a boat procession on sea and a light festival and market within the city (www.costadeitrulli.org).
Also the Red Bull Cliff Diving series are sometimes stopping by in Polignano for some spectacular jumps from the city cliffs – check out the website for the latest schedule on www.cliffdiving.redbull.com
Stop 6 Land of the Trulli
In the middle of the Apulian region around Alberobello you can find a concentration of the traditional Apulian dry stone huts with their conical roofs - which gave the region the name “Trulli Land”. Somehow they look like dwarfs pointed hats from a fairly tale sticking out of the olive trees. The Trullis were formerly built as temporary shelters and storage houses and served as basic housing for agricultural labourers. Nowadays they are a huge touristic attraction and under protection. Due to the new touristic income a lot of Trulli ruins have been restored and are hosting now shops, restaurants and hotels.
Directly in the village of Alberobello you can find a real authentic Trulli experience with Trulli Holiday (www.trulliholiday.com), which is an Albergo Diffuso. Means that this is not one single connected hotel complex, but offers various Trulli houses located all over the village. Same you can find with Tipico Resort (www.tipicoresort.it).
We however chose a Masseria 5 km away from Alberobello. A Masseria in general is always a nice alternative to a common hotel accommodation. Masserias are restored old farmhouses, which usually offer B&B accommodation, however nowadays some of them are not the common basic versions anymore, but real luxury properties.
Our Masseria Pentima Vetrana (www.pentimavetrana.com) was a traditional B&B with a lovely set-up. We were lucky and got the Trulli apartement as not all the rooms are located in Trullis here.
The interior was rustic and inclusive of a kitchenette and outside BBQ place.
The Masseria had also a super nice garden and swimming pool, surrounded by vast olive tree plantations. Breakfast was served by the friendly “mama” of the house.
A place that I can highly recommend if you are in the region - only thing, you should not be allergic to cats as they have them all over the Masseria and the curious ones will come and check out your room as well 😉
Of course the main sights here are the Trulli houses and the picturesque villages around. So a day of village hopping is the best alternative. Must see places are:
Alberobello (www.alberobellotourism.com) – the Zona dei Trulli on one of the two city hills is the highest concentration of Trullis (around 1500 of the beehive shaped houses) found in the region and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking through the cobble stone streets along the white washed houses feels like walking through a hobbit movie. And by the way these small dwarf houses are not only popular among tourists, even some of the local discovered again their love for these ancient houses and moved back to live in them.
If you are looking for a nice hand-made souvenir visit Nicola Lopefrido in his workshop Lithos (Via Monte S. Michele 18). Here you can get authentic hand-made souvenir Trulli houses in which Nicola will engrave traditional symbols or initials of your own choice.
Locorotondo – which is situated on a hilltop and named as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Wander through the historic center with its white washed houses and the colourful flower pots hanging from balconies and lining up the streets.
Martina Franca – has a very fotogenic centre with many Baroque buildings, whitewashed houses and narrow alleys to explore.
Ostuni – another jewel of Apulia, which should be included in every itinerary. Rising high above the land, you can see the maze of white houses already from far. The Old Town combines many different époques with Gothic, Roman and Byzantine elements. The town is the place to be for all history lovers, but also for those who just like to take a relaxed walk through the labyrinth of streets and enjoy some real good food in the local restaurants.
A nice alternative to explore Ostuni is a feet-friendlyTuk-Tuk tour.
These were the main highlights for me in the region. But alone the drive through the countryside is picturesque with some Trulli´s around and lots of olive trees and farmland. This is an area to explore slowly, with a lot of time and muse.
If you are looking for some special tours in Apulia as well as other regions of Italy have a look on the website www.wonderfulitaly.eu
Il Trullo Antico – for rustic local food / Via Monte Pasubio 1
Favola in Tavola – another traditional restaurant / www.favolaintavola.com
Martinucci Pasticceria – for heavenly sweets and cakes / www.martinuccilaboratory.it
Ai Tre Santi – a cute family owned restaurant / Via Guarnieri Dottor 51
Pane, Amore e Fantasia – freshest organic, ingredients combined with traditional cooking / Corso Vittorio Emanuele 25-50
Borgo Antico Bistrot – Mediterranean fingerfood plates in great location / Via Fina 8
Bianc` Ostuni – another nice spot for lunch or dinner in the old city / Via Giovanni Antonio Petrarolo 2
And of course never miss some of the real good street food options along the way.
Martina Franca is hosting a very popular Opera Festival every summer. The Festival della Valle d´Itria – www.festivaldellavalleditria.it
Stop 7 South Apulia
After one week on the road we reached the so called "Heel on the Italian boot "– and we chose the charming coast town of Otranto as our base for the next 6 nights. Our plan was to explore the area around, but also to take it easy and have some relaxed beach days with less driving.
Another nice “hit” on booking.com – The Tenuta Belvedere (www.tenutabelvedere.com). Hidden in a small park-like property, close to the train station and 10 minutes walk away from the old town of Otranto. Tenuta Belvedere offers various apartments/rooms with different sizes and amenities. The friendly owner welcomed us upon arrival and let us chose from two apartment options. We were lucky as it was still not in the main season – so we chose the apartment on the first floor with a nice private terrace.
The ambiance of the room and also the general facilities are a bit with an Arabic/Morrocan touch.
Upon arrival we also got a detailed introduction to Otranto plus the beaches and restaurants around. The hotel offers free parking.
Breakfast was served on the lovely garden terrace – a real oasis for a relaxed start into the day. The girl who did our breakfast came from Philippines – so sorry, I am aging and can`t remember her name ☹ but she was super friendly and hospitable.
So let´s start with the closest city then – Otranto, Italy´s most eastern town. This lovely medieval city is surrounded by thick ancient walls and overlooked by the impressive castle. As a tourist hot spot you can find a huge number of restaurants, bars and shops plus a small port from where you can book excursions into the Adriatic sea.
The restaurants along and on top of the city wall, are the most scenic ones for sure.
The city has its own small town beach as well.
However I would recommend the beach club Lido Castellana at the end of Via Antonio Sforza (www.lidocastellana.com) – where you can rent sunbeds and enjoy a delicious lunch under shady trees.
Grotta della Poesia / Beaches
A must-see of the region is the heart-shaped Grotta della Poesia with its crystal clear azul water. Of course you will never be alone here, so I won´t recommend to stay too long – but a picture and a jump has to be part of your tick box.
Between Otranto and the Grota you have many amazing beaches, almost Caribbean style. A lot of them are quite hidden and involve longer walks to reach there. During peak summer time, it will be hard to find an empty spot on the white sand if you come too late and after you have managed to find a place to park. That´s the time of the year when this little paradise turns into a nightmare. Most popular beaches of the area are Baia dei Turchi and Laghi Alimini. You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas there and also drinks and small snacks are on offer – however no toilet….well, where to go then….. 😊
Another famous Grotta and one to enter. After making your way down from the parking area you reach the dark looking cave entrance – from there you can take a guided tour through the inner cave to admire the stunning structures within (www.grotta-zinzulusa.business.site).
A bit further south after the Grotta, you reach this picture postcard village, hanging over the coastal cliffs.
S. Cesarea Terme
Most of the coastline of this area is made of rocks and cliffs, so places to swim are limited. One nice alternative would be a sea bath like the one in Cesarea Terme, which is also the largest thermal bath of the region. You can rent your sunbeds here and enjoy comfortable stairs leading into the water. Shower and toilet facilities plus a restaurant are also part of this sea bath.
Coming now to the west coast of Apulia – which is mainly popular among younger travellers. Especially Gallipoli is the center of all the summer action, with many beach clubs, bars and night clubs. As the previous towns Gallipoli also has a nice historic center – ideal for a late afternoon walk and dinner.
If you drive down south from Gallipoli you can also find on this side many beautiful beaches, which are mainly shallow and therefore ideal for kids. If you like your beach day inclusive of hotel-like facilities you can opt for one of the many beach clubs around like for example Le Cinque Vele Beach Resort & Restaurant in Pescoluse, 30-minutes drive from Gallipoli (www.lecinquevele.com). They offer various day package options there.
Which is my last place to recommend in this listing and also a must-see as it is often called the Florence of Apulia. Around every corner you can find some architectural surprises built with the soft creamy local limestone. Lecce is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture – so take on good walking shoes as you will have a lot to explore.
At the Piazza S. Oronzo you can find the local tourist office, where you can book some interesting walking tours if you are up for a more detailed glance on the city (www.tourism.ilecce.it).
Pi Greco – Italian cuisine with a fine twist / www.pigreco-ristorante.it
La Polperia Fish Bar – relaxed outside set-up, delicious tapas styled fish dishes / Via Antonio de Farraris 38
Peccato Divino – for traditional fish dishes and pasta / www.peccatodivino.com
Ristorante da Sergio – another good option for local delicies / Corso Garibaldi 9
Il Bastione – with a fantastic seaside set-up / www.ilbastionegallipoli.it
L´Osteria Casa Noscia – in the heart of the Old Town with delicious traditional dishes / www.losteriacasanoscia.it
Martinucci Pasticceri – same branch shop as in Alberobello. Indulge in divine mini-tarts, cakes and ice cream. And don`t miss to try the regional favorite – Cafe Leccese, Iced coffee with almond milk – so yummmiiiii / www.martinuccilaboratory.it
La Cantina del Salento – if you like to bring some of the excellent regional wines with you back home, visit this charming little wine store in Via Antonietta de Pace 89.
And something that is always a perfect option in Italy – EAT AT HOME! With a bottle of local wine, some cheese and mortadella from the supermarket next door, you can never go wrong in Italy.
Festa di Sant Oronzo in Lecce – another impressive regional light festival. After a procession for the city Saint a big festival with concerts and a street market will take place. And of course the illuminated streets are the main highlight to witness (www.leccenelsalento.it).
Stop 8 Matera
Is Italy´s magical stone city in the heart of the Basilicata region. The city has been the scene of many movies and has been selected as Europe´s Capital of Culture in 2019. Matera is one of the few cities in the world that has been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times. Main sight is the Sassi area, a complex of caves dwellings carved into the mountainside. Due to poor living conditions inhabitants of the caves have been evacuated and resettled in 1952. However nowadays life came back into many of the renovated caves with restaurants, shops, museums and even hotels. Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site and titled as one of the most outstanding urban settlements ever created.
So talking about hotels first choice in Matera would be of course an accommodation directly inside the caves. However most of them charge a quite heavy price tag for this unique location. Here are a choice of properties to have a look:
Sextantino Le Grotte – various caves around the whole city area / www.sextantino.it
Caveoso Hotel – a more budget friendly hotel / www.caveosohotel.com
Corte San Pietro – one of the most atmospheric hotels in the city / www.cortesanpietro.it
Hotel Sassi – with some of the best views in town / www.hotelsassi.it
La Dolce Vita Matera – a simple B&B in the heart of the city, but not in a cave / www.ladolcevitamatera.it
Palazzo Gattini – for the luxury lovers among you / www.palazzogattini.it
So where did we stay then? Well, in aspect that none of the cave hotels in the historic center can be reached by your car and you have to carry your luggage, we lazy ladies chose a hotel out of the old area, but within a 10 minute walking distance.
The hotel Casino Ridola (www.hotelridolamatera.it) – was a pleasant alternative with free parking right in front of the hotel. Our room was not a cave as the hotel is a common house or better to say a villa, but at least it was styled like a cave – so we got a bit the feeling of two cavewomen. Breakfast was nice and served inside the veranda facing the garden. Further we took advantage of the swimming pool for a refreshing dip.
So as mentioned above the must-see area is the Sassi – cave area. You can take an extensive stroll through the narrow coble stone streets and explore this magical little city by yourself. Ladies of course no heels – but also with flat shoes, be very careful as a lot of steep streets are super slippery, even when dry!!
Before you take the steps down to the historic center, you can have a nice view from the terrace on the Piazza Pascoli.
Don´t miss to visit the cave museum – Casa Grotta (www.casagrotta.it), where you can see how people lived in the caves before.
Discover also the Rock Church Park, which is located across the Gravina river, boasting 150 places of worship carved out of the rock. The area feels like part of a stone fresco.
Also a city walk at night is highly recommended as the atmosphere of the lit up city is completely different as during daytime.
If you are not staying in one of the cave hotels, you should at least have dinner in one of the cave restaurants. Like for example the Sasso Caveoso (www.ristorantedelcaveoso.it) – where one of my favourite Italian appetizer – the Panzanella (bread salad) was super good as well as the other dishes.
Others to try would be the L`Abbondanza Lucana (Via Bruno Buozzi 11) or the Osteria Vigna del Mare in the upper town (Vicolo Lombardi 53).
If you like to have more modern food and a nice cocktail afterwards accompanied by some relaxed DJ vibes try Area8 www.area8.it
Sagrada della Madonna della Bruna
This week long celebration of Matera´s patron saint has 14th century roots. On July 2nd a colourful procession is taking place in which an image of the Virgen is carried through the streets. Later in the afternoon the crowd will descend on the main float and will tear it in parts to take a little piece back home as a sign of good luck (www.festadellabruna.it).
Since 1987 the Onyx Jazz Club brings this festival to the Basilicata area. In Matera you can experience various concerts in unique places in and around town (www.onyxjazzclub.com).
For further event suggestions in Matera check www.materaevents.it
So after two full-filled weeks of new places, experiences and many driven kilometres inclusive of some scary minutes owned to the sometimes horrific Italian way of driving we reached the end of our first section. Watch out the next Blog for the second part, which brought us further down to Calabria and then all the way up North again.